Rwanda: Get ready, great artists are coming – Founder of Jazz Junction

Jidenna, Doen Moen, Mtukudzi, Bruce Melodie, Adekunle Gold and most recently Nigerian Timaya are all stars who have graced the Kigali Jazz Junction, one of the biggest events on the country’s entertainment calendar.

After a long break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, events are slowly returning with revelers eager for concerts.

The new times Jade Natacha Iriza speak with Remy Lubegathe founder of Kigali Jazz Junction on a variety of topics, including the professionalization of the industry and what fans should expect this year.

How do you introduce yourself?

An entrepreneur and a creative. A man with many coats and jackets. The music business is a passion. I admire talent, then I promote and showcase it through events and concerts. It was quite a 25 year journey.

How did you survive during the pandemic when concerts were banned?

It was not easy. We had to think outside the box. We started selling onions and tomatoes. We launched an e-commerce platform called kimironkomarket.com.

So how did you bounce back?

When Covid-19 fell, then the market started to open up. We thought, “how can we get back to what we do best? We said let’s bring the biggest trending artist to Africa at the moment, which was Adekunle Gold at one time. That was the biggest risk we we took, but yes, it was People never expected to have an international act in the event of a pandemic.

How profitable is this industry?

Events are profitable and very viable businesses depending on your strategy.

Where do you see the potential of this industry?

As far as Rwanda is concerned, this is only the beginning. We haven’t optimized yet to say we’ve done it all. We’re not as big on events as in South Africa or Nigeria where you have an event on Monday and it’s crazy, we’re not there yet, but we’ll get there. Remember that Rwanda comes from a position where people attended events for free.

Primus GumaGuma has always been almost free and it was the biggest event for almost 10 years. People were only paying Rwf500 which is less than a dollar, which alone had its detrimental aspects when it came to events.

Sites used to be a big challenge but now have the [Kigali] Arena, Canal Olympiad, Camp Kigali and a few other places.

Third, we had a sponsorship challenge but now there is a new understanding that events earn mileage and companies can use it to market their products and services. Additionally, we now have a wide range of musicians, offering different varieties of music. Back then, we had a narrow pool. So all of these aspects work in synergy to determine where you want to be in the next two, three or five years.

Speaking of how far Rwanda still has to go…why do local gigs sound so bad?

It depends on the producer of the show. The quality must come from the owner of the event. If you don’t optimize for quality and don’t know how to protect your name, you’re bound to compromise on most things. And when you compromise, the quality definitely goes down. We went on this journey and challenged ourselves not to have such mistakes in our shows.

There have been complaints that people buy VIP tickets, but end up being taken. Concerns such as overbooking have been highlighted… is it a problem of greed or poor organization?

It is a young and growing industry. Sometimes you book a room and you’re given numbers that don’t actually match the number of tickets you’re selling.

As an event planner, you need to look at each of these aspects from start to finish. It happened once on our side where we were given a location and the numbers weren’t real. Once you get the stage up, you’ll find the numbers go down.

A person tells you that the hall has the capacity for 5,000 people, and she doesn’t describe the specifics, that’s when she’s standing. So if you are selling tables and you aim to sell close to 4000 tickets for people sitting on tables. Decidedly, the table will take up much more space than the people standing. So the calculation there will be messy in most cases

It is a learning process. You take what you did wrong and fix it next time. It’s not about greed.

What can be done to ensure better organization and better service for ticket holders?

We train our human resources. Capacity building is very important for the people we employ to help us organize these events. Now with online ticketing it gives you great showings and knowing when I’ve sold out. Before, people just bought tickets at the gates. So you have a queue and you don’t know what’s going on. But now we can do a forecast and some contingency planning and action.

There also seem to be conflicts between event organizers and the authorities. As an event organizer, how to ensure better coordination between all stakeholders?

The Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB) strives to bring together all stakeholders for each particular event that occurs to ensure that quality is assured and regulations are adhered to.

Usually what happens is miscommunication, especially in terms of getting permission. It’s either that your approval is given late and one agency misses out on the detail of what has been agreed by the other. RCB now meets for every event you plan, bring together all stakeholders; the venue, the police, the event owner and the vendors who will be supplying at this event so that you can all harmonize. I think that’s great.

You have brought many popular artists. You also put on shows like “Live Rock Music to Town”, and others. Could you tell me three artists you would like to see perform in Kigali and why?

In my lifetime, Phil Collins. My dream is to have Phil Collins, Rod Stewart… those are my two favorites for old school love. I watch an artist with his art, a complete package. He’s a guy who plays drums, he plays keyboards, he plays guitar, he can sing. He is huge. He’s a producer, he’s a songwriter. Oh my God, it’s accomplished, it’s quite a package. So I would like him to do what he does best.

For millennials, great artists are coming. I just don’t want to talk about it because you know, we’re in a competitive game, so you never know who’s listening right now, but we’ve got some very epic and trending millennial artists coming to this town, just like, we have already surprised you before.

What are you currently doing to bring them?

We are already in contact. Negotiations are going on, looking at their schedules, their tours and all that. We will announce our annual schedule in May. In May we will have at least 60% confirmation of all the artists we are doing this whole year. Because we plan to do eight series of events this year.

Back home, what do you think of our local artists?

Well, they grew up. I would say the market has grown or the industry is growing, but there is a lot to do. I don’t want to comment too much as they may take it personally. But from experience, I will tell you that there is a big challenge in terms of understanding what show business is. Most of them misinterpret it as ego.

South African singer Zahara known for the song ‘Loliwe’ performed at Kigali Jazz Junction in Kigali on Friday evening May 31, 2019. / Sam Ngendahimana

They think the more ego you have, the more celebrity you are. Moreover, they still have management problems. We don’t have really qualified people to manage and develop talent.

Who has been the best artist to work with and why? Both local and foreign

It’s always been Bruce Melodie to me. He is very humble and optimistic. I remember when we were thinking of doing the election song, I just had an idea in the middle of the night, I took my phone and said to him “this song of ‘twanyoye twasinze’, I think we have to adjust he was like “Remy you’re crazy” and I was like “let’s do this and he was like” OK, let me come and meet you”.

As for a foreigner, Oliver Mtukudzi. I’m going to give you a scenario. The time I brought him here, the girl had had an accident. I had booked Oliver for three years and it was fully booked. So I just said to them “guys, please any day you would feel like coming to Kigali, I’m in”. So one of those good days, God answered my prayer. After we confirmed the day he was flying, the girl had a serious accident. She was in an emergency. He still came to Kigali and the director said, “we are only here because we are committed”, which for me was very humiliating.

Ringo Madlingozi from South Africa was also very cool. Jimena too. Also Don Moen. Most of them are cool, especially since they pick the vibe of what you give them. Once you give them a really good vibe in terms of professionalism, everyone is happy.

To conclude, is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to encourage everyone to come out and support the industry. Feedback is very important for us to get where you want us to get to.

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